Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

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Steve Kroenke
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Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby Steve Kroenke » Wed Feb 19, 2020 1:17 pm

Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

It was probably an easy transition for purple martins. Nothing complicated, just logical and natural progression from the rustic, secluded and darkened environment of a woodpecker cavity to a similar one with some differences. The martins found an ideal new nesting cavity that perfectly complemented their morphology, breeding behavior and evolutionary past. Martins found natural gourds. And we modern day landlords in the 21st Century are still using these outstanding cavities that were possibly introduced hundreds of years ago by Native Americans. Natural gourds have withstood the test of time and held their own with new world competitors like lumber, aluminum, and plastic. Though we have “modernized” gourds by adding rain canopies, porches, access doors, paint, and tunnels in the entrance area, their naturalness is still very much intact on the inside where it really counts. In fact, it can be argued that a natural gourd is still the very best and most attractive cavity one can use for purple martins.

Though the natural gourd will probably always be my favorite purple martin cavity, I no longer use them in my martin colony. Why? Well, I must confess I grew tired of preparing gourds for martins: cleaning them out, sanding, adding access doors/rain canopies/tunnels, painting and then maintaining them afterwards. Maybe I am getting lazy in my old age! But the new outstanding plastic gourds like the Troyer Horizontal and Vertical Gourd, Super Gourd and Excluder Gourd have proven to be just as popular with my martins as the naturals. So in 2010 I replaced all my remaining natural gourds with the plastic ones mentioned previously and my martin colony has thrived. But I still have fond memories of all those natural gourds I grew and used beginning in the early to mid-60s when I was just a boy!

However, the natural gourd has characteristics that still make it a winner when used as a martin cavity. If you don’t mind all the preparation/maintenance activities, then you can’t go wrong with natural gourds.

Martin Morphology And The Rustic Substrate

Over eons, purple martins evolved certain physical characteristics that not only complement their highly nomadic aerial lifestyle, but also accentuate their nesting behavior. Martins have sleek body profiles, which are perfectly adapted for high-speed flight in the open skies. But such a svelte physique is also ideal for entering those round woodpecker holes and climbing down and up in narrow cavities that gradually enlarge to the nesting chamber which may be a foot in vertical depth. Martins also have short legs with strong feet/nails. Long legs are unnecessary for birds that spend their time hunting flying insects and rarely visit the ground. But short legs with strong feet/nails are perfect adaptations for entering and waddling down and up rustic natural cavities and climbing and clinging to the coarse sides. Short legs with strong feet and sharp nails pressed against the body provide good climbing and hanging tools inside a rustic environment. Chimney swifts superbly reflect this adaption when nesting inside brick chimneys or hollow trees. Martins used such physical attributes for thousands of years to breed in vertically deep woodpecker nest sites and martins are still doing it out west in Gila woodpecker cavities excavated in saguaro cacti. And martins are currently doing it with gusto in natural gourds located throughout North America. So from an evolutionary and biological perspective, purple martins and rustic nesting cavities are a good combination.

Characteristics Of Natural Gourds That May Appeal To Purple Martins

Cavity nesting birds are looking for the best and most secure site for their young. Security is critical in the natural world because there are ferocious predators that will readily eat both the parent birds and their eggs/young. Female birds often make the selection of the nest site though the males usually select a territory, which could include multiple possibilities. In purple martin society, the male establishes the territory and the female makes the selection of the male and the actual nest site, which could include a number of cavities.

Darkness

Natural gourds have certain characteristics that may greatly appeal to purple martins and provide them with that security. First, the interior of a natural gourd is usually darker relative to the inside environments found in comparable plastic gourds with white insides or the shiny compartments of aluminum houses. In the natural world a dark nesting site helps to mask the precious contents from predators that would readily eat the inhabitants and cavity nesting birds instinctively know this. Why do you think woodpeckers dig vertically deep cavities that transform into dark pits? Perhaps if darkness was not important, then woodpeckers would excavate a shallow horizontal cavity so that the internal contents were easily visible from the outside. When bank swallows dig their tunnels, they dig them deep which greatly increases the interior darkness and minimizes light intrusion. So natural gourds generally have relative dark interiors and this may give the female martin in particular a sense of security for her eggs and young. The size and shape of the natural gourd greatly impacts the darkness factor. Entrance holes can be cut on some gourds to create significant vertical and/or horizontal depth to the actual nesting chamber. Entrance holes cut high up on gourd necks produce a vertically deep woodpecker like cavity; this hides the martins farther down inside and does not expose them directly through the entrance. Holes cut low down on gourd fronts may allow direct line visibility and light intrusion into the nesting chamber. Entrances drilled in the neck side to produce an offset entry or configured by cutting off the neck end to create a funnel also minimize visibility inside the gourd nesting chamber. Such gourd designs increase interior darkness which may be attractive to female martins.

Seclusion

Second, natural gourds provide a secluded environment which is closely related to the darkness factor. In fact, these concepts are truly inseparable. Greater seclusion can be created by using gourds that maximize vertical and/or horizontal depth as discussed previously in the darkness section. The farther the nest area is from the entrance hole and less visible the more secluded and protected are the martins from the watching eyes of owls and other predators. Most female cavity nesting birds may prefer to be completely out of sight while they are setting on eggs or brooding their young. And female martins may prefer their young to be located deep down inside a cavity and not clearly visible from the outside through the entrance hole. A natural gourd with its interior darkness and seclusion helps provide that privacy.

Rustic Interior

Third, natural gourds are rustic inside and similar to the interior substrate of a woodpecker cavity. Rustic interiors allow martins to use their sharp nails and short legs to easily move around and climb about in vertically deep cavities without slipping and sliding. In natural gourds with the entrance cut higher up to produce vertical depth, martins can easily climb up the interior surface to reach the hole.

And there is another important attribute of a rustic interior surface. Such a coarse substrate provides the foundation to help hold nesting material together as the female martin builds her nest and creates the nest bowl for the eggs; woodpecker cavities are perfect for this. The slick surface of plastic or metal provides almost no “adhesion” for nesting material and may allow it to separate and slide about when the female spins to create the nest bowl for her eggs. In plastic gourds and aluminum houses, I have found martin eggs resting on the bare plastic or metal because the nesting material separated when the female created the nest bowl. And if these eggs hatch, the young will be sitting directly on a plastic/metal bottom. As the young grow on this bare surface and their legs spread out, they can develop “splay leg syndrome” resulting in deformed legs that provide no support. These young are usually doomed.

So martins may be attracted to the “natural feel” of the rustic surface of natural gourds. The texture which resembles that found in woodpecker cavities may indicate to the female martins that this site will provide a good foundation for their nests.

Territorial Privacy

Fourth, natural gourds (plastic gourds do this too) provide territorial privacy for purple martins by giving a pair of martins a “separate” nesting cavity that is NOT contiguous with another one like you find in many multi-room houses. There are NO continuous porches from one gourd to another and you can arrange your gourds so that they are facing different directions. Though martins are communal nesters, they still have territorial defensive drives and will fight to keep other martins out. They like their space and gourds can be arranged on a rack to provide this privacy. Male martins will often take over multiple cavities and keep other males out; this is male martin nest domination. Males primarily do it to keep other males from competing directly for available females and provide potential mates with a variety of nest site possibilities. Remember: the male selects the territory but the female selects him and the nest site. Woodpecker cavities provide this territorial privacy, too. While male martins may take over several gourds initially and chase off other males, such behavior tends to subside sooner with gourds than with houses which have rooms close together.

History

Fifth, natural gourds with their rustic, secluded and dark interiors may activate stored “genetic memories” from the martins’ evolutionary past and indicate to martins that such cavities are good candidates for nesting. This may be a subtle inherent attractant to martins. This is particularly true in the Deep South where martins probably first started the transition from woodpecker cavities to natural gourds erected by Native Americans. So, there is a historical precedent for martins to gravitate toward natural gourds.


Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

The natural gourd is an outstanding purple martin cavity and somewhat replicates the attributes found in woodpecker holes. Martins nested for thousands of years in woodpecker cavities and still do out west. Such vertically deep cavities are dark, secluded, rustic, and provide territorial privacy for martins. Natural gourds have most of these characteristics. Nesting time can be very dangerous for martins and predators seek out vulnerable nest sites. The more secluded a martin’s nest is from the outside world the more protected and less visible are the eggs and young. Natural gourds are still highly relevant nest sites for martins and are functioning as outstanding cavities in the same way they did hundreds of years ago. Natural gourds have withstood the test of time in a world filled with plastic and metal substitutes.

Steve Kroenke
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season

TerryW
Posts: 92
Joined: Tue Mar 12, 2019 12:02 pm
Location: Nashville, Arkansas

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby TerryW » Wed Feb 19, 2020 2:02 pm

Is there anybody that would disagree with your tome, Steve? I surely wouldn't! However, as you said, you don't do plastic for various reasons. The question is "are martins attracted to the natural GREATLY more so than plastic". In our minds we probably would think so, but being human we simply cannot be sure. My experience would say there is very little difference. If they were as attractive as your rationalization might suggest, they might never utilize plastic; however, we know better, don't we.

I think about the only true measurement might show in analysis of colony "starts", because with established colonies the social martin is only too happy to occupy most any cavity as long as other martins are present. There are too many factors though that impact colony "starts", I think, to ever be able to figure anything out.

I'd say in summary though, that I do agree with you, but the degree of attractiveness of natural is PROBABLY not as great as implied. Don't get me wrong, though, it is a great dissertation, I enjoyed reading it.

Black Jack
Posts: 35
Joined: Mon May 06, 2019 4:37 pm
Location: NC

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby Black Jack » Wed Feb 19, 2020 4:27 pm

Way back in 1984 i started out with natural gourds. Had 4pr come my first year and raise off spring. Next year they came back and right at the end a raccoon raided and that was the end of my colony. I learned a lot over the years and started back up 2 years ago with plastic gourds. Well the location was different than before. Not as wide open but i managed to get a pr. of sub adults late in the year that fledged 2. Last year i got 1 pr of adults that fledged 5 in my plastic gourd. I felt so sorry for them being so crowded that i grew my own gourds again this past winter and have the finest home they would ever want if only they come back this year. i agree with you. Gourds are time consuming to grow, treat, and paint but they are well worth the effort. I have predator guards up with netting also for snakes. Looking for a great year and wishing all here the same.

regards

PMDavid
Posts: 372
Joined: Wed May 16, 2018 8:50 pm
Location: Boyce,Louisiana
Martin Colony History: Second year trying to attract martins. This year I am getting rid of the wooden house and showing something they are used to seeing.
Offering 2 trio grandpaws w/2natural gourds under each and C.Abare gourd rack w/16 natural gourds. And one rehabbed 16 compartment Coates original with two natural gourds.Lots of lookers,a few overnighters and daily activity cruising and looking. All gourds have a rain canopy and wire perch.2019 7 pair moving into 2020 almost double pairs from 2019. Still have most of the month of March to go for new arrivals and April.

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby PMDavid » Wed Feb 19, 2020 6:03 pm

Mr. Steve , great write up! I think your pretty well spot on in your assessment of the natural gourd. Yes they can be a bit labor intensive,and yes after a period they have to be replaced and the whole process followed again to “create”some new ones. However.......at the end of the day,even though martins will except and thrive in plastic gourds,the natural gourd just can’t be beat and is exactly that to the birds..NATURAL! They can’t help but prefer it when given a choice. I offer 25 naturals and hope to get good occupancy. I like the different characters they have,and they can be created in several different styles. You have to envision each one ,one at a time to see which is the coolest “angle of dangle”. When your done though and look up in the air at the different styles and deep cavity protection you’re offering,well,it is rewarding. And , no leg splay .. guaranteed. Thanks for your insight into the Natural Gourd.
David

James Strickland FL
Posts: 2245
Joined: Thu Nov 13, 2003 8:04 pm
Location: Reidsville NC
Martin Colony History: 2017 Had a lot visitors no Matins nesting, hoping 2018 will be different.
2018 Had 1 pair
2019 had 30 pair

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby James Strickland FL » Wed Feb 19, 2020 7:42 pm

Steve, I have 25 natural gourds just sitting in the shed and i think I just might put them up just to see how they do. They are already painted and with access hole ready installed. I have about 95 % completed at my site for the year. It is going to be snowing here tomorrow and the Martin have not made it up this far in NC. I have seen them show up on 2/26 one year, but I hope that they stay away until the Middle of March as the weather will be better for them.
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Brad Biddle
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Location: Marshall County AL

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby Brad Biddle » Wed Feb 19, 2020 9:56 pm

Natural gourds surely have their place in many Martin colonies. They are super at attracting Martins. Having said that, I don't know that they work any better than good plastic gourds. The Troyer verticals that I use offer everything a natural gourd offers and I don't have to add and access hole, or a tunnel. They come that way and they don't rot out in a year, two or three. It's impossible to know which Martins prefer when offering them at an established site. It would take countless trials at unestablished sites to know for sure.
Martin landlord since 2003. Currently offering 102 plastic gourds with tunnels and all SREH.

Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4324
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby Steve Kroenke » Thu Feb 20, 2020 6:00 am

Terry,

We all probably have our favorites! Most folks who have martins probably never used natural gourds. The new high quality plastic gourds are just so good and convenient that I can see why folks use them. I no longer use the naturals and quit in 2010. My plastic gourds have been excellent.

Trying to determine if naturals are truly more attractive to martins than plastics would be a daunting task requiring controlled "experiments" over a large area to get an appropriate sample. I really don't know if it could be done. So many variables come in to play!

In some areas of the Deep South, particularly many years ago, natural gourds were the primary cavity available for martins. I remember seeing HUGE natural gourd colonies in Georgia and the Carolinas when traveling through those states. At my first super martin colony in north Florida, martins only nested in my natural gourds when starting out and ignored my fancy aluminum houses.

I guess I am being nostalgic with natural gourds in many ways! I have used so many in the past and enjoyed all the different shapes and designs that naturally come with them. It was always something special to "grow your martin cavities" and then see martins successfully nest in them.

All that said, I hope that the natural gourd will always be a part of our martin hobby and have place among the many plastic varieties. I was contemplating erecting a "nostalgic gourd rack" in 2020, but then the thought of preparing all these natural gourds quickly eradicated those thoughts!

I just wanted to share my thoughts about natural gourds and their place in the martin hobby.

Steve

Black Jack,

Thank you for sharing your experiences with natural gourds. Growing gourds is a lot of fun, particularly when you get those fine looking large gourds that can be turned into fine looking martin cavities! I had all kinds of naturals and created different kinds of cavities. Some of my gourd racks had natural horizontals and verticals all together and the martins loved them!

Predators can destroy a martin colony. The martins are concentrated in a small area on a gourd rack or in a house and a raccoon, rat snake, or owl can decimate those martins and cause total abandonment of the colony. I have seen local martin colonies destroyed or severely damaged in our area, mainly by rat snakes. Net traps have saved our martins many times from rat snakes.

Troyer Horizontal and Vertical Gourds, Super Gourds and Excluders are fine plastic gourds and I use all these in my martin colony. They provide plenty of room inside for the martins. I don't know if you have tried these. At one time had mixtures of these with naturals on my gourd racks. Martins nested in all of them.

I hope your martin colony thrives and grows this year with your natural gourds! Keep us posted!

Steve

David,

I can see you are a big natural gourd fan! So am I, but they are labor intensive. In my "youth" (LOL), I grew many of my gourds and bought a bunch too. I did all kinds of things with them and actually enjoyed it for awhile. But man it was a lot of work, particularly when I started working with a 100+ gourds.

And then came the high quality Troyer Horizontal and Vertical Gourds, Super Gourds and Excluders. I started using them and their convenience and attractiveness to martins convinced me to transition to them entirely. The rest is history!

I, too, like the different shapes and "character" of natural gourds. Each gourd has it own "personality" it seems with a slightly different look. I preferred having multiple styles on my gourd racks, mainly just give the racks some variability and see if martins showed any preference. It was hard to determine the preference factor as all the naturals were occupied each season. The martins really like my naturals with either vertical or horizontal depth relative to placement of the entrance hole. When you use a natural gourd with a long neck and cut an entrance hole on the end, suspend the gourd horizontally on the rack, the gourd somewhat resembles the current Troyer Horizontal with the tunneled entrance area. Perhaps when Andy Troyer created his horizontal gourd, he had used similar naturals in his own martin colony.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on natural gourds and I am looking forward to seeing how the martins respond to those 25 naturals in your colony in 2020.

Steve

James,

You already have a potential natural gourd rack with those 25 naturals ready to go! Maybe try a few and see what happens. I do know in the past North Carolina had HUGE natural gourd colonies and remember seeing them. I don't know if those are still around.

I have around 50 martins in my colony right now but the weather over here has been chaotic. Warm then cold rain! It has rained for the last two days constantly and my yard is water logged. The martins are OK but I'm sure they are ready for some clear skies and sunshine and I know I am. The martins stay hunkered down in their nests and make sure short flights out when they can. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny but chilly but I believe the martins can find flying insects.

I hope your martins stay south for a while until your nasty weather passes. Some of the martins in my colony may be transients that are roosting here and waiting for more favorable weather before heading north.

Please let us know when your first martin arrives!

Steve

Brad,

I know you have used naturals and grow them, too. But they do require a lot of work to prepare and then you have to replace them as necessary.

The Troyer Horizontal Gourd is my favorite plastic gourd and is always the first gourd occupied by my earliest martin arrivals. Right now, nearly all the "gourd martins" that have arrived so far are in Troyer Horizontals. My other styles, the Troyer Vertical, Super Gourd and Excluder, will eventually all be occupied with a nearly 100% occupancy level.

I agree it is most difficult to truly determine preference levels at both un-established and established martin colonies between plastic and natural gourds. So many variables come into play. You could try to mix naturals and plastics on a large gourd rack and analyze occupancy rates over a period of time and see if the first returning martins gravitate toward one or the other and which ones have the most martins nesting. But all may eventually be occupied each season, particularly in areas with abundant martins numbers. So that would not tell you much about true preferences.

I was mainly just trying to share some of my thoughts about natural gourds and their "place" in our hobby. If folks have the time and interest in working with naturals, I think these cavities are fine additions to any martin colony. They have definitely been an important factor in the history of purple martin nesting biology and I hope folks will continue using them in the future!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I hope all those naturals you grew have many martins successfully nesting!

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season

mjfog
Posts: 203
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2017 3:40 pm
Location: Palm City, FL
Martin Colony History: 2018 will be my first try. 6 S&K B09s. 29 eggs - 8 fledged
2019 - 12 Troyer Horizontals with tunnels, 6 S&K B09s and 12 B011s all with tunnels. 43 eggs - 36 fledged

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby mjfog » Thu Feb 20, 2020 7:33 am

Steve,
Very informative write up regarding natural gourds. Really enjoyed reading it and sharing the passion you had for them particularly during your younger days.
The natural gourd bug never bit me. But I found interesting your comments about your birds' favoring which type of plastic gourd.
My first season (2018) was a tri-tel pole with 6 S & K B09s. Five were occupied and fledged young my first season.
I erected a S & K 24 gourd rack for the 2019 season and added 12 Troyer Horizontals to the mix. Fledged young from some of each type of gourd.
This year I added a third set to my colony; a 24 Troyer Horizontal doo-dad I built from scratch. I'll post pictures when I can hold my grandson down long enough to show me how to post!
This season I replaced the B09s on the tri-tel with B011s, have 24 B011s and the S & K rack. With my new set, I'll be landlording 54 apartments. Have counted 16 to 20 birds at my colony thus far this season. The majority of activity is concentrated on the S & K rack with occasional visits to the tri-tel and my Troyer rack. I'll be interested in "gourd preference" as nesting begins.
Mike

James Strickland FL
Posts: 2245
Joined: Thu Nov 13, 2003 8:04 pm
Location: Reidsville NC
Martin Colony History: 2017 Had a lot visitors no Matins nesting, hoping 2018 will be different.
2018 Had 1 pair
2019 had 30 pair

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby James Strickland FL » Thu Feb 20, 2020 10:15 am

Steve,

There is a few colonies that I have seen that are still natural gourd site around me and they are full of martins. A lot of plastic gourds are being used to replace those as they fail. Some of the plastic gourds are those we see are junk and will not last that long. I like you have a lot on the Super Gourds and Troyer Gourds which we know are the best not to promote them. They have become very expensive for some to buy, but I have had them for over 20 years and they look as good as new. I do grow natural gourds each year just for the fun. I will mix a few of them this year just for the old days when I started. They are round hole and like you I try to control the Starlings. I had only had 1 male sparrow to show up and he did not make it.

I will let you know when the first Martin shows, but I hope the weather changes so if they show up early they will make it. We like you have had so much rain and it going to snow Today, but will only be about an inch. After my last years numbers I think I will have a big increase. I have the room and I think I have on have enough gourds for the increase. I have over a 100, but I am going to put 70 to see what happens. If I need to I can have the rest up in a few hours. Take care my friend and as always best of luck this year.
PMCA MEMBER

Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4324
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby Steve Kroenke » Thu Feb 20, 2020 1:57 pm

Mike,

Thank you for sharing information about the gourds you use and the status of martins in your colony so far this year.

Natural gourds are a lot fun but a lot of work too and I can certainly understand why many folks just use the plastic gourds. I got the natural gourd fever way back in the early 60s. All my early natural gourds were really natural with no painting. Martins thrived in them! But the gourds rotted out in a few years.

I liked to read about what other folks are using relative to the various plastic gourds on the market. I have never used any of the S&K gourds but I know a lot of folks use them. My favorite is the Troyer Horizontal with a cling plate and with a tunnel/porch. Both are really popular with the martins in my colony. My favorite vertical is the PMCA Excluder Gourd. Like the deeper depth from the entrance hole to the gourd bottom which nicely cradles the nest, eggs and nestlings. Plus the Excluder Gourd has that "organic" look, almost looks like a natural gourd on the outside in some ways. My Troyer Verticals and Super Gourds are excellent too and well occupied.

Looks like your martin colony is growing and you are expanding some with the number of cavities.

Since you live in Florida, do you have any issues with rat snakes trying to climb your martin poles? When I lived in Tallahassee, I had many issues with gray rat snakes and corn snakes trying to raid all my bird houses! As you know, I use net traps to catch the snakes and then remove and release them away from my martin colony.

I hope you will be able to post photos of your martin colony. I use Photobucket and link photos from that site to the Forum.

You already have a nice number of martins at your colony!

Good luck in 2020!

Steve

James,

I'm glad you are still seeing thriving natural gourd colonies in your area! Hopefully the tradition will continue in some colonies as more and more folks transition to the plastic gourds.

I also have a bunch of Super Gourds and many of mine must be over 20 years old. They look almost brand new when I clean off any mildew/mold. These gourds are made from excellent plastic just like the Troyer Horizontals and Verticals and the Excluder.

I have been thinking about planting some gourds and watch them grow. I always enjoyed seeing how big they would get and the eventual shape.

So far, few starlings and almost no sparrows at our two personal colonies. Any that stayed too long were shot or trapped. I give NO QUARTER to these pests!

Looking forward to status reports on your martin colony as the season progresses. Take care and I hope you have a fantastic martin season!

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season

mjfog
Posts: 203
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2017 3:40 pm
Location: Palm City, FL
Martin Colony History: 2018 will be my first try. 6 S&K B09s. 29 eggs - 8 fledged
2019 - 12 Troyer Horizontals with tunnels, 6 S&K B09s and 12 B011s all with tunnels. 43 eggs - 36 fledged

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby mjfog » Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:29 am

Steve and others responding on this string,
Forgot to mention that all of my gourds have been fitted with the "tunnel and porch" modifications. The S & K B011s have a tunnel with a crescent opening onto a porch and is fitted onto the B011's face with "push-pins." The Troyer Horizontals are equipped with an extended tunnel that opens to a porch thru a Conley 11 entrance. Both mods provide starling-proof openings and increased distance, hence protection, from the opening to the nest.
All three sets of my colony are fitted with the "inverted bucket system" for terrestrial predator protection. My buckets are nursery containers having a 12" base, 17" depth and flair to a 20" opening. I had no predation issues my first two seasons and am hoping for the same this year. Corn and Black snakes are the two most commonly seen on my property and raccoons added to the bunch are my main threats. I haven't had any avian predation nor any problems with starlings or house sparrows. In fact, I'm yet to see either a starling or house sparrow on my property since I began "martining." Did hear a pair of Great Horned Owls calling to one another this past November. Lord, they make such a soft note from such a large owl.
Wishing all a successful season, Mike

Steve Kroenke
Posts: 4324
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 6:49 pm
Location: Louisiana/Logansport

Re: Natural Gourd…Outstanding Purple Martin Nesting Cavity

Postby Steve Kroenke » Fri Feb 21, 2020 2:55 pm

Mike,

Thanks for sharing more information about your martin colony and the how you are providing protection.

Your inverted bucket approach looks good but some of those huge rat snakes may be able to defeat it. I have seen many of those commercial metal cylinder guards defeated by large rat snakes and the snakes are then caught in a net trap place above the guard. Just to be safe I would recommend some bird netting (3/4 inch mesh) above your regular guard. Any snake that defeats the inverted bucket would probably be caught in the netting and you could remove him unharmed.

Yes, those ferocious great horned owls sound so timid with their hoots! We have great horned owls that usually attack our martin colonies every season. They are mainly after the martin fledglings which return to roost out in the open on the gourd racks and houses. They don't have a chance against the owls. After multiple attacks the martin fledglings eventually quit roosting here. If they don't, then I reluctantly chase the martin fledglings off the gourd racks and house rather than let the owls do it for me and eat a bunch of the fledglings in the process.

We have many attacks by migrant Accipiter hawks and merlins during February, March and mainly April each season. This morning I observed a spectacular attack by a female sharp-shinned hawk on a female martin and the hawk was sidetracked by one of my martin decoys! The real martin escaped! I will be posting an article on this with two photos of the decoy and it's hawk wounds!

During June and July the resident Cooper's hawks catch many of the martin fledglings. We probably lose over a hundred fledglings each season to these hawks. I kept records one season and counted almost 70 martin fledgling kills by Cooper's hawks.

We have few starlings and almost no sparrows around our personal martin colonies. All starlings that visit and don't leave are either shot or trapped.

Thanks again for sharing that information!

Steve
PMCA Member
300+ pairs of martins each season


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